DOSSEYE REFUGEE CAMP, Chad — Karimou Jafoul, a thin boy with big brown eyes and a perpetually worried gaze, was among more than two dozen kidnapped children who were held last year at a base deep in a sweltering forest in the Central African Republic. He was 7 at the time.
There were at least six boys and girls his age or younger, he said, and he often was ordered to wade through waist-high brush to fetch water, firewood and tea leaves for his captors.
His father, Bouba Jafoul, 53, said that his youngest son was beaten with sticks and bicycle chains.
Asked to describe his 25 days in captivity, Karimou, sitting cross-legged on a thin mat outside his family's mud-brick hut in Dosseye, went silent for a long moment, as if wrestling with a memory.
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"I was scared," he said finally. "I didn't know if my father would come for me."
Jafoul, a lanky man with a wispy gray goatee, at first could raise only half the ransom. When he went to the appointed spot to deliver the money — a two-day trek through thickets and towns controlled by rebels — the bandits cursed and pummeled him for not bringing the full amount.
After borrowing more cattle from relatives and pawning some metal jewelry, Jafoul had enough money to free Karimou. The family left for Dosseye immediately, walking for a week before reaching the Chadian border.
They're penniless now. But the humdrum rhythms of the camp are a relief for Karimou, who plays with other children in the dirt streets and studies in a Quranic school run by refugees.
"It's beautiful here," he said.